Whether you are planning a two week vacation or a year off to see the world, here a few thoughts, ideas and suggestions from our own life on the road.
Before you leave...
Be Spontaneous, Plan accordingly
Spontaneity on the road is ideal and allows you to follow whims and suggestions from fellow travellers you meet on the way. However, it also helps to have places that are important to you, your must see's. For trip pre-planning our two favorite books were:
Code Green Experiences of a Lifetime
1001 Places to See Before you Die
Right place at the right time
From a seasonal perspective, know where you want to go. Visiting places in the off season is not always a bad idea, but you need to know before you go.
Forget around the world tickets
If you have time, as most long term travellers do, skip the pre-arranged ticket. They are not as flexible as they claim to be. You can be much more flexible and spontaneous when you plan as you go.
Learn the language
Especially in South America. It makes a huge difference and allows you access to relationships, knowledge and experiences that you would not get otherwise. If you don't learn it before, learn it there - there are language schools everywhere and immersion is the best way to learn.
Explore Travelfish (for Southeast Asia only)
Travelfish.com - The best travel website for this targeted area. Descriptions and costs are the most accurate and their down-loadable PDF city guides mean that information is up-to-date and you don't need to carry around a heavy book. Perfect for pre-planning and information and resources while on the road
Immunizations + Malaria
Be smart, but not over-reactive. We found that the best advice is from the locals. They know what is happening and whether Malaria is a problem at that time of year or not. Medications and pills can all be purchased abroad, for much less than you will pay at home. There is no need to travel with a whole medicine cabinet. Be aware of Dengue Fever - it is a growing epidemic and can be found all over the globe. It's not fun, especially when you get it at the same time as your travelling companion.
Set up a Skype account if you don't already have one. Set up your parents, siblings and friends. This is the best and cheapest way to connect with everyone back home. Most Internet cafes have head-sets and skype available. Pack a small head-set just in case.
Computer or not?
It all depends. We bought one half way through - and it is no bigger than a hard-cover book. Easy to hide and disguise. In Southeast Asia, wireless is everywhere, making your room the best place to plan and stay connected with people back home. Also, pre-booking rooms over email is the easiest way to ensure that you get a bed in the place you want.
It doesn't hurt to have a few small things from your home to share with families you might stay with or visit. Pack a few pens, colored pencils and stickers to hand out to local children - they need the pens for school and this a perfect way to start talking. Please don't give sweets or money. For older friends, pack a few pocket English dictionaries. These are expensive abroad and we would have liked to have some avaialable to give.
We fit in somewhere between the back-packers and the suitcasers. Our bags were rollers, that in a few seconds could be transformed into a pack. And in 10 months, we strapped them on our backs twice. And we did go off the beaten path...but the wheels are sturdy and can take almost any terrain - even sand. We found these bags at REI and were completely happy with their durability, size and practicality. Oh, and they don't look so bad either.
1. You can buy EVERYTHING that you need abroad- so take even less than you think.
2. Keep it under 15 kilos - If you ever fly on small domestic carriers, this is their weight restriction.
3. Again, take less than you think you need.
4. Pack wisely and well - Alex stuck with a black, white and one color theme so everything worked together.
5. Don't worry about laundry - For $1/per kilo you can get your laundry washed almost anywhere.
6. Don't weigh yourself down with books - those too can be purchased and swapped in most places
7. Do take your favorite sunscreen - It is expensive abroad and the selection is not always good
8. Take a color copy of your passport with you, and keep it separate from your original
9. Pack stickers and pens for the kiddies you meet in the bus or plane or riverfront
10. Pack so that you can pack it all up in less than 10 minutes - you never know when your plans might change
While on the road...
Think locally, plan accordingly
If you don't want to ride and live like a local, at least look for locally owned businesses to support . By choosing local travel companies, restaurants, tours, agencies and hotels - you help communities build prosperity and keep the profit from tourism within the community it is affecting. Abandon your comfort zone - that is when the most magical things can happen.
Get on a scooter
There is no better way to explore a new place than from a rented scooter. There are available almost everywhere and just follow how the locals drive. Be safe - wear a helmet.
Use the Lonely Planet wisely - Find hotels in the area you want to stay in, get there and then look around to see what newer hotels have popped up. More often than not, they are newer, cleaner, friendlier and always cheaper. And get off the LP path - magic happens there too.
Less is more
We suppose that most travellers shop while on vacation. Local artisans and tourism often depend on this source of income. Again, choose wisely. What looks like a handicraft may just be an import from China - so ask and ask a local. Choose souvenirs wisely too - be mindful of the stuff you bring home. Some things look beautiful in their natural habitats and culture and then look awkward when you incorporate them back home and then end up in a yard sale.
There is no toilet paper off the beaten path
So always carry it with you. Travel tissue packets are available on every street corner. Keep them on hand. But we aware - especially in Asia - toilet systems are not built to handle paper. You will need to reduce the amount of TP you use and maybe even expand your mind a bit.
Read a novel about the country you are visiting while you are there
This is a great way to learn the social history of a country, through they eyes of someone with a special or unique relationship to that place. Book stores and street vendors are all over - no need to carry these with you from home. Here are a few suggestions:
Vietnam - The Girl in the Picture
Galapagos Islands - My Father’s Island
Italy, India + Indonesia - Eat, Pray, Love
Japan - Memoires of a Geisha
Back em up
Your photos are important. Be diligent about backing them up. Burn them to CD and regularly send them home. For an additional back-up system, drag and drop to a small compact hard-drive that you carry with you.
Trust the Postal System
We sent home 7 packages while we were away...we're still waiting on two. Long story, ask us if you are interested. Otherwise, it all works well and easily. In Vietnam and Thailand, they even box it all up for you.
Other than that, be bold, be adventurous, be safe and be well.